The Butterflies & The Bees & The Bicyclists

Dear Cyclists: I asked Steve Yaninek, our entomology professor member, for some info about the insects that riders at the WRR might see at this time of year. I was just expecting some quick, fun trivia to share on Facebook in my role as social media coordinator. But he actually sent me a really informative piece that I think would be of interest to anyone traveling through our area on two wheels— us most of all! Steve mentioned butterflies, and if you follow club member Jane Yatcilla, you’ll have noticed some amazing butterfly photos she’s taken in her garden. Jane graciously allowed me to use her photos here. Thanks, Steve and Jane! —Melissa McCurley

From the Desk of Steve Yanninek, Entomology Professor at Purdue Univeristy & Local Cycling Enthusiast:

It’s still hot and humid, but the days are already getting shorter and many insects have completed their summer work, and will now begin to prepare for winter.

This is the time of year when riding your bike out of town through fields of corn and beans you might encounter clouds of insects that get stuck in the sweat on your arms and face. This could be small sweat bees emerging from the summer nest, flying ants that are gathering to form mating swarms before dispersing to start new colonies, or flying aphids coming off the soybeans migrating to nearby buckthorn where they will spend the winter.

Monarch butterflies are starting to move south. A few began already in the past couple of weeks, and most adults observed in September will be making their way to Mexico. They usually arrive at the overwintering site in the mountain tops west of Mexico City by the end of October, which is a cultural signal to celebrate Day of the Dead on November 1st. If interested, you can watch the migration on a website call Journey North (yes, the opposite of what is happening now) at this website.

We’ve been seeing woolly bears (woolly worms in the south) on the road for a number of weeks now. Does their color predict the coming winter - the amount of black in the caterpillars indicating the expected degree of severity in the winter ahead? It’s a nice story and an old folk tale that dates back to colonial times in this country, but it is totally without merit. The color of the caterpillars are a result of their diet in the locations where they grow-up and nothing else.


Late summer and early fall is a time for picnics and tailgating, but beware of uninvited yellow jackets. They are attracted to sweet drinks and sweet food, but also to the protein in your hamburgers and hot dogs. There is no easy fix for this other than be aware and be vigilant so you don’t accidentally swallow a wasp.

With the big cicada emergence over and the noises of summer starting to wind down, you might hear some buzzing, chirping and/or whirring sounds in the trees around you. These are male tree crickets rubbing their wings together defending territories and attracting females. The sounds will continue until the weather turns cooler sometime in October.

Happy Riding!